An Interview with The Bitter Truth - Stephen Berg

When/where did the idea first come about for the Bitter Truth?


The idea was born at a time when i was still bartending in Munich and was very geeky about all things classic. A time when i was collecting old bar books and noticed the immense amount of bitters used back then, but hardly anything available in modern times. When i then read an article at (a once famous cocktail forum ran by Robert Hess) about the lack of bitters in our world the headline was titled „The Bitter Truth“ and it just struck me and the rest is history. I was making my own bitters when i was behind the stick and used them in my cocktail program. Soon other bartender friends became curious about it and this got the ball rolling. The missing link was Alexander (my company partner) at that time, but i met him soon afterwards and with his former graphic design studies he gave the brand a visual face.


What kind of process do you go though when deciding the next flavour to release?


The process has changed a bit over the years. In the beginning the bitters world was lacking of almost anything and the first flavors were naturally the ones that played a role in classic drinks hence Aromatic & Orange Bitters. From there we just closed gaps for a while eager to be the first to release new type of bitters like celery or Creole Bitters. With growing success and also a growing number of others jumping into the bitters game we now question ourselves more often whether or not we think there is something the cocktail world really needs. We can`t think of a spicy double caramel pecan/apple bitters as sometimes it has gone a bit over top. As we have our established line of bitters we are also more careful about new releases as there are many aspects (like marketing, activation, distribution, approvals) related to a product launch than just to make a new product. Lately we were more focusing on the savory flavors which we think will be of great benefit for future drinks.


How are the bitters made, maceration, distillers or other methods/ a combination (as much detail here as possible please!)?


It certainly varies from product to product. We use different techniques from classic maceration and percolation to infusion and distillation. It all depends what we want to achieve in the final product or sometimes on the fragility of the raw materials. Techniques are also combined and even there we play with variations. We always use only natural ingredients and we always use alcohol as the extractor and the preserver while some others make shortcuts or use glycerine as their preservative of choice.


What is the base spirit you use/does this differ for each expression?


We usually go for neutral spirits as they offer something like a white canvas you can build everything around. This is of advantage with flavors that are fragile and very light in general. But we also us gin when it fits just like in our Tonic Bitters, we also use rum for Jerry Thomas Bitters as it greatly supports the overall flavor of the other warm and dark spices. For the Essence of Cuba range in cooperation with Havana Club we use their 7 year old rum as the base spirits


When sourcing ingredients does you take any specific requirements into account? (Kosher, Organic, style of taste etc)


So far we did not look into the Kosher or Organic classification as with Kosher the requests are low and it does not sound reasonable to go through all the trouble getting the certification and with organic you can easily run into trouble with EU law as its all overregulated. We would not even state organic even if its made that way. What we certainly do is to have the best possible raw materials and we have a very good supplier who is sourcing from all around the globe, applies proper testing on pesticides and other contamination, they provide analysis reports and every supply is trackable to its origin.


Where did the drops and fades range come from?


The idea was born when we were thinking about what to do to celebrate our 10th anniversary and it all started with a role model of a great looking art deco bitters bottle and it developed into the concept of highlighting various parts of the „Tree of Life“ as botanicals play the main character in our bitters world. With the Drops & Dashes line we investigated different flavors form roots as an example. Roots can be very different to each other and combining the aromas to achieve something bigger then the number of its ingredients was challenging. This will all be limited and last only as long as we have these fantastic looking glass bottles. Everything was developed in-house from the bottle, cap, dasher, box and of course the liquid.


What is the main difference between the Bitters & Drops & Dashes range?


Our classic line of bitters has a classic approach, they are mostly focused on one dominant flavor (grapefruit, cucumber, celery) and are more bitter then the Drops & Dashes line. With the Drops & Dashes line we enter new ground and focus more on the aroma of different areas within a plant and keep it selective to those regions (wood, root, blossom). Its like giving the bar world a new toy, at first people are careful and need to find use, but this can be a very inspiring process and is challenging the creativity again. Thats what its all about. Another point is the sometimes skyrocking price of dash bottles and we wanted to give something back for the great support we have received from the bar community. With higher numbers we were able to produce the bottles at a reasonable price point and due to their beauty they will certainly be reused which is also good for the environment.